Over the next several days, I am doing a series on Gregory of Nyssa and his doctrine of perfection as found in two of his writings: The Life of Moses, and On Perfection. The previous posts can be found here, here, and here.
On Perfection uses the names of Christ found in the New Testament Epistles as a template to explore the life of Christian virtue. This path of virtue is the realization that the Christian life “must be conformed and shaped according to virtue through the manifestation of [Christ’s] names.” If one is going to be called Christian, it is an admission that Jesus is the teacher and guide from whom we learn “through the determination of our lives how we should act.” This is because, if we are going to take the name Christian for ourselves, we have to understand that with that name comes responsibility and the expectation that Christians will be conformed into the image of the name that they take.
Thus, the Christian does two things: she imitates the characteristics of Christ that she can imitate, and she venerates those characteristics of Christ that she cannot imitate. In doing so, the Christian demonstrates the power of the names of Christ and more importantly the power of Christ himself to redeem, reconcile and restore humanity to their proper place as image-bearers of God. Gregory of Nyssa explores thirteen names of Christ, and offers ways in which Christians can imitate those names, or worship those names that cannot be imitated. For example, Christ is the image of the invisible God. The Christian, then, in imitating Christ and being conformed to Christ’s image, also “becomes the invisible God’s image.” By pursuing a life of virtue that imitates the absolute Virtue, the Christian will be transformed in thought, word and deed and each of these are being perfected so that “the holiness praised by Paul may be constantly kept in the entire body, mind and spirit with no mixture of evil.”